Important information about the new XBB.1.5 “Kraken” COVID virus stamp

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Perhaps the ability of micron branching to easily infect cells contributes to its rapid spread in places.

The omicron variant family tree has grown significantly over the past year. The brood now includes a mix sub-variant with alphanumeric names such as BA.2, BA.5 and BF.7. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that two versions — BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 — caused just over half of all new infections in the United States in the week ending Jan. 7.

Now, a newcomer called XBB.1.5 seems poised to dominate. The CDC estimates that it accounts for more than 80 percent of new cases in parts of the northeastern United States. In the week ending January 14, it accounted for 43 percent of new cases nationwide.

But although previous variants such as alpha, delta and original omicron , have been associated with massive bursts of new infections, it is not yet clear whether XBB.1.5 is destined for a similar pathway. Preliminary evidence suggests that a sub-variant, referred to in some circles as the Kraken, is present more transferred than its predecessors. However, this feature is there a characteristic feature of the evolution of the virus — successful new variants must be able to outperform their siblings.

Currently, experts from the World Health Organization are closely monitoring XBB.1.5. But still too early to say can he capture the globe. The majority of cases currently originate from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Denmark.

Science News spoke with infectious disease specialist Peter Chin-Hong of the University of California, San Francisco about the latest variant of the coronavirus to make headlines. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

SN : What is the difference between XBB.1.5 and previous versions of omicron?

Chin Hong : There are many variants that are produced all the time. This is normal for a virus because it makes more copies of itself. It is not completely accurate or precise and therefore contains errors, [які є варіантами]. It’s like a bad copy machine in the office.

XBB, XBB.1.5’s sibling, was scary — and could be seen in Fall 2022 — because it was one of the most immune-resistant variants. But the reason XBB never went global — it actually did in Singapore and India — was because it didn’t really infect cells that well.

XBB.1.5 has the immune slipperiness of XBB, but it also has this new mutation that makes it easier to infect cells. So it’s like a bulldog that won’t let go of the camera. Although XBB was kind of invisible, like he had an invisibility cloak with Harry Potter , he had no bite. But XBB.1.5 has an invisibility cloak as well as a bite.

SN : Is that why it spreads so effectively in some areas?

Chin Hong : We think so. Because being very efficient at infecting cells is a really important superpower if you’re a virus.

You can be invisible [для імунної системи] as much as you like, but if you’re not infecting cells efficiently, you probably won’t be that contagious. It may be [причиною] distribution of XBB.1.5 because it has both of these things. Seeing how it’s crowding out other options, we’re now wondering if it’s worth paying attention to. And this is accompanied by an increase in cases and hospitalizations.

SN : Previous variants were associated with large outbreaks of infections. Can we expect the same from XBB.1.5?

Chin Hong : This is difficult. If it were March 2020, the answer would be a very simple yes. But in January 2023, you have so many differences in people’s experiences with COVID, even if it’s a different type.

You may have someone who has been infected two or three times and has been vaccinated and rehabilitated. It will be someone who is really, really well protected against serious illness. Maybe they will catch a cold. They may not even know they have the infection, unlike someone who has not been vaccinated and has never been infected, and they are older. For them, it could also be March 2020.

Such [другий] there is a type of people, for example, in China. In China, XBB.1.5 can cause many problems. But XBB.1.5 hitting midtown Manhattan may not cause as much trouble in the highly vaccinated, exposed population.

[Час також має значення], as we’ve seen a lot of BQ.1, BQ.1.1 lately, and a lot of people got infected after Thanksgiving. This rise of XBB.1.5 comes after many people have already been infected recently. So it probably won’t hurt as much as if you had a long lull and suddenly you have a new thing.

SN: Are vaccines and treatments still effective?

Chin Hong : The new updated boosters generally perform slightly better than the older vaccines in terms of overall efficacy and prevention of infection. But with these new slimy variants like XBB.1.5 … if you want to prevent infections, even mild infections, the vaccines will probably last maybe three months.

But if you’re talking about preventing me from dying or going to the hospital, these vaccines will give me enhanced protection for many, many months, maybe until next winter for most people. For seniors over 65, if they don’t get enough nutrition today, that’s a problem.

[Такі ліки, як] Paxlovid and Remdesivir work independently of the adhesion protein [частини вірусу , на яку націлені вакцини, але де багато захисних мутацій]. So it doesn’t matter which invisibility cloak the option has. They will work because they work to shut down the virus factory, which is one of the first steps before the adhesion protein is made.

So they will work no matter what the option is [spike] will appear, and that’s good. Even if you are unvaccinated or have never been infected, being diagnosed and treated early can significantly reduce hospitalization rates.

Now, not all monoclonal antibodies work. [Вірус занадто сильно змінився .]

SN: Why do only the “omicron” options appear?

Chin Hong : I think “omicron” has hit the magic formula. It will be difficult to escape from the gold medals. This is very good for transmission and all the other aspects that are good for the virus.

[Раніше] it was two or three months and you had a new variant of the coronavirus somewhere in the world. It is now omicron from two thanksgiving days.

SN: Given that each variant is more transmissible than the last, is it inevitable that everyone will get COVID?

Chin Hong : People who haven’t been infected before will have a very, very hard time escaping this. But it is not impossible. It’s going to get harder and harder not only because XBB.1.5 is so transmissive, but also because we don’t have as many restrictions anymore. You go to the grocery store and no one is wearing a mask or you don’t feel peer pressure to wear a mask. So you will succumb just as you succumb to a cold…

But you can reduce your risk in the short term by getting a booster if you haven’t already. And undoubtedly [бустер] may reduce the risk of death, especially if you are older or immunocompromised…

[Люди, які все ще носять маски]must wear really high-quality masks [такі як KN95s]because you can no longer rely on everyone else wearing masks.

SN: How concerned should people be about XBB.1.5?

Chin Hong : The world is divided into two groups of people. People whose bodies have become very, very ill with COVID have received vaccines, or reinforcements, or… several infections. In addition, there are people whose bodies do not have enough experience with COVID. For this one [останню] group they should worry about.

For someone, you look around and your neighbor got it but nothing happened, or your cousin or a person at work and it’s like it’s not a big deal. But in the United States [від COVID] 500 people die every day. And for these people it’s a big deal…

It’s a strange situation because it’s no longer universal and different people have different levels of risk.

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